By Iris Conlay
CATHOLIC HERALD Film Critic WHILE Aberystwyth was the one and only cinema open in Great Britain, all the British film studios were carrying on with full production plans according to pre-emergency schedules. Carrying on even a little faster than schedule demanded in some cases— not because of war but because of
A cast call of a hundred have been working on The Thief of Baghdad at Denham. For weeks the most elaborate sets have waited under a grey and lowering sky for even a patch of blue sky. Basra's white walls call for tropical skies before shooting a colour film of Oriental life is made possible. With the sun came crisis, but Alexander Korda gave the order to push on with the work even on Sundays.
When the first air-raid siren went off on the Sunday on which war was declared, shooting was taking place at Denham. Underneath the stages there are ducts with a gas-proof shelter at the end. Everyone took shelter, including Alexander Korda and his wife, Merle Oberon, who had with her a portable radio to relieve the tedium. Work was resumed on the All Clear.
Anyone coming home from London on the evening train to High Wycombe these days can see evidences of The Thief at Denham Station. Lining the platform are examples of all the coloured races of the world going back to their usual avocations in London after a day's " extra " work in crowd scenes at " Baghdad." Negroes, Lascars. Berbers, turbanned, fezzed and woollyheaded, jostle together in eager conversation, and over the noise of the train float their voices speaking in strange tongues that sound like the lazy quarrelling of starlings. So many types and only two features common to all— swarthy skins and gasmasks.
FROM the Film Artists' Association come plans for the production of a number of films of topical and national
importance. Calls still come in from studios for cast.
French Without Tears is completed and will have its world premiere as soon as arrangements can be made.
Sound City studios are being kept busy with the Mario Zampi production, Live and Let Live. Air lighting sequences between British and German planes are being re-photographed, and scenes are being added to bring the film Into line with present conditions.
At Welwyn, Traitor Spy has just been finished.
At Twickenham, work on The Stars Look Down is complete.
At Elstree, preparations are going ahead for work on The Middle Watch, Edgar Wallace's The Yellow Mask, and a Bulldog Drummond subject.
At Islington, Band Waggon production was held up for the crisis, but has now been transferred to Shepherd's Bush.
At Ealing, David Goliath. continues.
At Walton-on-Thames, Money For Nothing continues.
At Highbury, behind an A.R.P. trench, Inquest continues.
News of all this activity suggests more outlet than a single open cinema at Aberystwyth.
IT is hoped, too, that we shall not be I starved of foreign films, which means Hollywood productions as well as French. For the time peing, anyway, there are enough film supplies in this country to keep the exhibitors happy. Later we shall learn whether they are to be supplemented.
Certainly, if we are cut off from French pictures our own will be the poorer. We could take some most valuable lessons in film-making from France. We might learn to be unselfconsciously ourselves, having seen how successfully the French remain French throughout their productions. From Hollywood we may to advantage learn technical excellence, but in so far as we adopt Hollywood manners, stories, and outlook, we fail to do our own job well and make only third-rate copies of Hollywood's. IN the editorial of the current Catholic I Film Notes, some shrewd comments are made upon the position of British Illme.
"Our films," writes the Editor, " for the most part are American, whether made at Denham or Hollywood. The stars, producers, directors, ferry continually across the Atlantic and have by this process of cinematic pollination .produced the AngloAmerican hybrid technique and approach, which is as un-British as Woolworths or any other chainstores . . .
"Let us be candid. The real Britain is not to be found in the hectic hotel and night club life of London, nor at Margate or Southend-on-Sea in the season. Let us admit it. Our metropolis is provincial and its inhabitants cannot escape from this restricted outlook by a mass-exodus to the sea or by picnicking, complete with car and the B.B.C., in Epping Forest " To discover England one has to walk in Cumberland, live in the Cotswolds and the Mendips and rub shoulders with herdsmen, ploughmen, and country gentlemen the land over, to glimpse at the Gorge over Cheddar in the early morning, or to walk through the Lake District in the autumn when the tourists have returned home with their picture postcards.
"If nothing can be done to revive the traditions of these places, to put Britain on the screen not merely pictorially but nationally by recounting an epic adventure within the limits of a Shropshire village, reflecting the native wisdom of simple people, their passions, ambitions and loyalties, then the future of British films is dark indeed,"
WILL the vast fantasy of the V V Arabian fairy tale; the thrilling exploits of the Bulldog DrummondEdgar Wallace epics; the humour of Mrs Bag-wash, or even the realities of Dr Cronin's latest experiment satisfy the requirements of the Editor of 0.10.N.? Probably not entirely. But if there are gleams of a national tradition which is fundamentally true appearing even fitfully through these films, is it too much to hope that through the difficult period the film industry is facing, it may not lose sight completely of this ideal of " discovering Britain"?